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Posts Tagged ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Is it my imagination, or are the Oscars happening earlier than they used to? I know it’s early to start talking about the gong season, but something seems to be afoot – the mature, thoughtful, serious films that studios release in order to try and secure a little gravitas always used to come out around new year, but now it feels like a fair number of them are showing up earlier and earlier. Christmastime seems to be dominated by blockbusters more than ever, which may also be a factor.

Anyway, if nothing else this means that sensible films for grown-ups are in cinemas across a much wider period, which has to be a good thing. As ever, responsible for a goodly proportion of these are the Weinstein brothers, late of the phenomenally successful Miramax company: their new outfit made The Master, which is surely a shoe-in for nominations, and also the slightly more audience-friendly Silver Linings Playbook, written and directed by David O Russell.

As this is a seriously-intentioned movie, Russell has arguably taken a bit of a risk by casting Bradley Cooper in the lead role, Cooper being best known for – er – broad comedies and dubious blockbusters like The Hangover and The A-Team. Cooper plays Pat Solitano, who at the start of the movie is released from a psychiatric institution. His presence there was a result of discovering his wife in flagrante and nearly beating her lover to death, following which he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

Now he moves back in with his parents (Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver), still intent on winning back his wife, despite the advice of everyone around him that his expectations may be unrealistic. Through friends, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who has experienced serious psychological issues of her own. Putting aside the instant, if somewhat spiky, chemistry between them, Pat and Tiffany strike a deal: she will take a letter to his wife for him (a restraining order prevents him from contacting her directly), in return for which he will be her partner in a forthcoming dance contest. What could possibly go wrong…?

Well, I was accompanied to this movie by my former Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs and Motorsport, who has requested a transfer to the post of Senior Dubious Comparison Wrangler. As his response to Beasts of the Southern Wild was ‘Waterworld meets City of God’, I thought he was in with a shot at the job, but what clinched it was his summation of Silver Linings Playbook as ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest meets Dirty Dancing’. On one level this is a spot-on description of what the film is about, but it’s also utterly misleading in terms of what it’s actually like to watch.

What this film is, is an extremely well-assembled and well-acted comedy-drama with a strong romantic element, and very engaging to watch. There are laughs in the right places, but also darker and more moving scenes, and the odd bit which actually made me Feel Good (which is no mean feat given that most so-called ‘feelgood movies’ make me contemplate opening a vein).

That said, I was a little uncomfortable in some places while watching the film, mainly because it seemed to me that a lot of the comedy could be intepreted as being predicated on the idea of ‘Look at these wacky mentally ill people! How funny they are!’ I discussed this afterwards with the newly-appointed Comparison Wrangler, and he pointed out that what the film is saying is that everyone has their own issues of some kind or other, and it really doesn’t make a distinction between people with issues and those without. The film’s depictions of bi-polar syndrome and OCD are sympathetic, honest, and non-judgemental, and the more comic moments should probably be viewed in the context of the rest of the film.

This is a Proper Acting Drama, and as such possibly something of a watershed moment in the careers of both stars: Bradley Cooper is really good, giving a proper, nuanced performance. Jennifer Lawrence has made something of a name for herself doing superior work in dodgy blockbusters – it’s not that difficult to look good in that sort of film, but a Proper Acting Drama is a different proposition and she is customarily superb here too. Robert de Niro is not perhaps as magnetic as his reputation might suggest, but neither does he embarrass himself. Perhaps most startling of all, Chris Tucker is in the movie, and not only is he not intensely annoying, he’s actually quite funny. Cripes.

I got a strong sense of Silver Linings Playbook working hard to keep the audience onside, mainly through the inclusion of the comedy and also a tried-and-true dramatic structure like the concluding dance competition (suffice to say, much is riding on the outcome). Parts of it are not terribly original or challenging, which may affect its chances when the gongs are handed out next year – but, on the other hand, the psychiatric disorder stuff is sufficiently integral to the plot for it not to seem like a standard rom-com-dram with a peculiar gimmick. I liked it; worth seeing.

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